After the success Mel Gibson had with The Passion of the Christ it’s no wonder that he made another film so quickly. What is surprising (to some, at least) is that this new film would follow closer in The Passion of the Christ’s footsteps than one would think. No, the movies not another religious, but the movie is entirely in Mayan. While that may deter some, I’ve recently come into watching a few Foreign language films (Pan’s Labyrinth and Letters from Iwo Jima) so I’ve long since gotten over my fear of subtitles. In fact, watching Apocalypto in anything but Mayan would feel strange.
The story in Apocalypto follows that of Jaguar Paw who is a young Mayan who has wife, a son and another child on the way. While the story seems to be set up as the tale of one of the other Mayan’s (Blunted) Jaguar Paw hunts with (his character is quickly given the most depth out of the five or six we’re introduced to), we actually don’t see or hear much from him once their village is raided. The story quickly shifts its focus on Jaguar Paw and while you fully expect Jaguar to do some heroic deed while he’s bent across the altar, ready to be sacrificed, he instead lays there motionless. He doesn’t really “awaken” as a warrior until he escapes back to his forest.
While the film is certainly full of exciting imagery, action and colorful characters, I found myself rather bored throughout it. While the plight of having your entire village burned and leaving your wife and children down in a well and praying that it doesn’t rain will tug at anyone’s heartstrings, the savage nature of the men around Jaguar Paw forces you to focus on his current situation, rather than his wife in the well (who I quickly forgot about until the scenes shifted over to her current situation). Had the story focused more on Jaguar Paw and his family, I’d be more emotionally inclined to pay more attention to his plight, rather than wondering if Blunted’s later claim that he would die taking as many of “those dogs” would come to pass (he would end up doing no such thing and merely dyeing trying to escape from their captors).
Aside from the wasted time to explore the characters, I didn’t really have too many issues with the film. While the well in the climax of the movie fills up curiously fast for the speed of the rain that’s falling (it’s raining hard, but not that hard), it can be easily overlooked—easier than the F-bomb Middle Eye dropped anyway. I don’t care about the word itself, but hearing an ancient Mayan leader describe to his men that “He’s f—ked” after one of his other men is bitten by a snake is rather distracting. You do a kind of subtitle double take, wondering if he really said that—and he did. He most certainly did.
Overall Apocalypto delivers on the front of jaw dropping locations, good directing (the film makes it easy to feel as if you’re really there, experiencing it with them—which is odd in retrospect, considering how bored I felt), brutal violence and a heartwarming reunion between a man and his family. Amidst the near two-hour and twenty minutes, however, the film loses its way in the city and only finds itself again in the same place as our lead character: in the jungles that Jaguar Paw, and the movie, started in.
A reflective foil cardboard slip gives the otherwise generic single-disc amaray case some shelf sheen, which will no doubt move a few more copies. Inside is an insert with the chapter and bonus features listed and the disc art mirrors the haunting one-sheet that adorns the slipcover and DVD cover. Menus are simple and easy to navigate and don’t offer any excessive animations that we see so often in big studio releases.
Video is clean for most of the film, although I noticed a large amount of grain in many of the jungle scenes. I don’t know if it was shot intentionally, but it does take away some of the appeal of the film to see the grain flitting about the screen. Audio comes in the form a 5.1 Dolby Surround and a 5.1 DTS. Both soundtracks are nearly identical, with the DTS crawling away with a bit more clarity, as always. Surrounds are rarely used, which is a shame as the jungle noises could have set the mood in the jungle sequences to be more intense than they already were.
On the special feature front we have a lively full-length commentary by Mel Gibson and writer/co-producer Farhad Safinia. The two are chatter boxes throughout, giving insight on the filming, the actors and more. For those that enjoyed the film it’s worth a listen.
A featurette on the making of the film is included and covers everything from set locations to the intensive costume and make up applications the extras went through on the set. We hear from Gibson and Safinia again, as well as the actor for Middle Eye and a host of other production crew. Combined with the commentary we get a clear picture of what it was like to work on this film each day—even though I was ultimately bored by the final outcome, there’s no denying the effort that went into this movie.
A single deleted scene is included as well and has commentary over it with Gibson and Safinia. The commentary starts out as if they were discussing something else prior, possibly the film itself, and it makes me wonder why this scene wasn’t put back into the movie. The runtime was only a few seconds and Gibson even calls it a nice scene—seems very odd to have left it out and even weirder to include it on the DVD as the sole deleted scene.
Overall the features for the film are adequate for a film such as Apocalypto. While I was bored by a lot of the film (perhaps I’ve become desensitized to brutal violence, as the gore featured in this didn’t make me flinch a bit), the film is not without its entertainment. It’s worth seeing once, but I doubt many will find much to want to watch again a second or third time. Skip the trip to Best Buy and head for Blockbuster—this one’s a Rental.
Apocalypto arrives on DVD and Blu Ray on May 22nd.